This month’s Relax and Read Book Club book, Escape to the French Farmhouse, by author Jo Thomas, is a heart-warming tale about reclaiming your life, set amongst the lavender fields of Provence. It’s perfect escapism from the author of Late Summer in the Vineyard and The Honey Farm on the Hill. Here, Thomas tells us a little about her writing inspiration and the bits that didn’t make it into the final pages…
“Del and her husband Ollie moved to a beautiful village in Provence for a fresh start after years of infertility struggles. But six weeks after they arrive, they’re packing the removal van once more. As Del watches the van leave for England, she suddenly realises exactly what will make her happier…a new life in France – without Ollie. Now alone, all Del has is a crumbling farmhouse, a mortgage to pay and a few lavender plants. What on earth is she going to do? After discovering an old recipe book at the market run by the rather attractive Fabian, Del starts to bake. But can her new-found passion really help her let go of the past and lead to true happiness?”
I would like to have learnt to cook at college and run a small bistro, possibly a pizza restaurant or tapas taverna. I love to have people enjoying food around the table. A bit like my books, I want people to enjoy the company, the time they spend sharing laughs and touching moments, and leave feeling full and satisfied and happy, promising to come back again soon.
I used to write in my car all the time. I had three children under the age of three. I would drop the eldest off at school, the middle one at nursery and then the baby would fall asleep in the car and I would park up, pull out my laptop and write for the hour the baby was asleep. It was my time. Then, as they got older, and we moved to Ireland for three years, I would drop them off at school and not wanting to go home to an empty house, in a place where I knew no one, I would pull up at the beach, overlooking Galway Bay, and it’s there that I wrote my first book, The Oyster Catcher. Nowadays, I write in the mornings, before the teens have woken, when its still quiet, and let my mind travel out to sea and to the places I’d like to be.
The Wind in the Willows. Those picnics on the river bank, the food, the friendships and warmth are things I think stayed with me in my own stories. I think if you discover the food of places, it will take you by the hand, introduce you to the people and the community, because to me that’s where life happens, around the table with the food we share… or in Ratty’s case, around the picnic blanket.
I have a great group of author friends. We are all members of the Romantic Novelists Association and that’s where we met. Every year we have an annual conference where we all meet up and attend talks, workshops and support each other. The RNA is a very supportive organisation and friends and members include Jill Mansell, Milly Johnson and Katie Fforde. Katie and I have been friends ever since we first met at an RNA event and often go on research trips together. We’ve travelled to France and visited the vineyards there, and the lavender region further south; Swedish Lapland where we met Sami reindeer herders and went out on a husky safari and Scotland and Spain. We also like to go on writing retreats, to get away from the outside world and just write. Needless to say have lots of fun along the way!
Just do it! Once you’ve written something, something can always be made better. Just do it! I got way too bogged down in books and courses and trying to learn about writing, instead of just writing. And write the stories you want to read, not what you think someone else wants to.
I went to Pizza Express! I didn’t have an advance when I was first published. I was published in ebook format only and with royalties. That book, The Oyster Catcher went to number 2 in the Amazon Kindle charts and I went to auction and signed with Headline publishing. When the deal was finally done, I went with the family to Pizza Express! It was dough balls all round! After that, I went to auction in Germany. I finally bought myself a camper van, so I could continue to write in my car, at a table, with a flask of tea!
When I was writing The Oyster Catcher, my friend and mentor Katie Fforde suggested I cut the first six chapters off the start of the novel and come in at the start of the action. I did. It worked much better! Nowadays I always write a prologue to set the scene. Sometimes they stay in and sometimes they’re not needed. But I needed to write it to get into the story. In my latest book, Finding Love at the Christmas Market, there was a prologue set in a church at Christmas time and there is a festival of trees taking place in the church. All the local groups and businesses decorate a tree. It’s beautiful, but it wasn’t needed to get us into the story, so it went.
I do read my reviews and when you hear from people who have thoroughly enjoyed your books and related to the characters or it’s helped them through a difficult time and offered escapism it’s the best feeling in the world. Bad reviews, well, if you agree with something they’ve said then you can learn from them. If they just didn’t enjoy it, you have to remind yourself that lots of other people did and have appreciated escaping somewhere else for a little time and the journey I’ve taken them on.
Each month we select five Spabreaks.com customers from a self-nominated pool, to read and review a newly released or soon-to-be released book, spanning all genres. You then have six weeks to read the book before writing reviews that are published here on the Hot Tub blog, and shared with club members via a dedicated newsletter.
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